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Sensory Revolutions: Women, Modernism, and Technology (MSA 17)

In The Senses of Modernism (2002), Sara Danius describes a late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century “crisis of the senses” initiated by new communications and representational technologies such as the telephone and cinema. Danius suggests that such a crisis has particular implications for conceptions of gender, but the questions of how technologies are gendered through their promotion of sensory experiences and how this technologically mediated “crisis of the senses” impacts the experience of gendered embodiment remain undertheorized. This panel will explore how media in the first half of the twentieth century shaped representations of gendered difference and androgyny through technologically enabled forms of embodiment and disembodiment. It will, in turn, also consider how early-twentieth-century technologies were adapted to reorient conceptions of gender in literature, art, and cinema as well as in discourses of psychology, biology, and engineering. In transforming Danius’s influential idea of the “crisis of the senses” into “sensory revolutions,” this panel further aims to focus on the affirmative possibilities of early twentieth-century technologies for feminist visibility and amplification as well as for disorientation. Questions we might address include:

• How did technologically-mediated perception influence early-twentieth-century movements for inclusive citizenship, such as suffrage movements, or liberation? How did changing sensory tropes of visibility and amplification reframe political possibilities for women in the first half of the twentieth century?
• While keeping in mind Jonathan Sterne’s challenge to reductive assumptions of intrinsic qualities of sight and sound in The Audible Past, we might still claim that different senses are infused with different cultural conceptions. How did gender and sexuality impact these conceptions and how might particular technologies reinforce or shift them?
• Visual culture and, more recently, sound studies have informed most research into the senses. How do questions of gender and sexuality in modernism change when we consider other senses of touch, taste, and smell that might be heightened or diminished through new technologies?
• We might posit two apparently oppositional sensory revolutions in modernism: the division of the senses through new technologies that Danius describes and a concomitant fascination with synaesthesia, or the melding of senses. How did conceptions of the relationship between the senses impact representations of gendered embodiment or androgynous disembodiment in the first half of the twentieth century?
• What is the relationship between sensory perceptions and psychoanalytic discoveries ostensibly determined by gender? How might this relationship itself be conceived through the technological?
• What feminist or queer phenomenologies did new technologies enable in the first half of the twentieth century or, in turn, what insights might a feminist or queer phenomenological reading of early twentieth century texts reveal about the relationship between gender and technology?

Please send 300-word abstracts and a brief biography to Laurel Harris and Allyson DeMaagd at lharris@rider.edu and acdemaagd@mix.wvu.edu by April 10, 2015.


Conference Location: Boston, MA, USA
Conference Starts: November 19, 2015
Conference Ends: November 22, 2015

CFP Submission Deadline: April 10, 2015

For more information, contact: Laurel Harris and Allyson DeMaagd

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